Should dog owners be concerned?

Dog respiratory illness

A local vet explains whether to be concerned by what is being referred to online as a "mysterious respiratory illness" in dogs.

Dog owners across the nation have been concerned about what is being referred to online as a ‘mysterious respiratory illness’ with some owners avoiding dog parks entirely. 

According to Dr. Candice Bittner, an Associate Veterinarian at Dougherty Veterinary Clinics, the public should not be too concerned. 

“We’re really still not sure if this is a new mysterious illness or an endemic existing disease that kind of waxes and wanes just naturally anyway,” said Bittner. “It’s one of those situations where we’re seeing more and more cases over the past few years. But if you kind of think about, you know, the peaks and valleys of extreme cases, the peaks seem a little bit more remarkable. So it seems like we’re getting an uptick in cases, but there’s no real reason to believe it’s something new, but more so maybe just kind of more frequent of something that’s already out there, just kind of morphing a little bit and it just affecting more dogs.”

Symptoms to look out for include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and labored breathing. Similar to humans getting a cold, coughing can be a seasonal uptick. 

“This time of year, we’re seeing tons of coughing dogs, you know, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s this new disease. It’s just dogs that are going to the boarding kennel or dogs that are interacting with other dogs or families over visiting for the holidays,” said Bittner. “Coughing on its own is kind of a pretty common symptom. But we’re seeing a little bit more dogs with nasal discharge or coughing that maybe isn’t responding to the typical therapies that, you know, usually responds to. And in those cases, we’re thinking, okay, maybe this is kind of in that category of this new or, you know, maybe existing, but more advanced version of an existing disease.”

Bittner added that while much of the concern is sensationalized by social media, there are precautions to take, such as isolating dogs who are older, have known heart or lung issues, or breeds like pugs and bulldogs that have a squishy face. Vaccinations and regular checkups are also important to keep your dog healthy. 

“You know, there is a vaccine for bordetella. Bordetella is just the traditional kennel cough. So getting your dog a kennel cough vaccine is important,” said Bittner. “There is a flu vaccine. Not all clinics stock it just because we’re not really used to seeing canine flu in this area. But you know, getting your dog vaccinated and having your annual checkups to make sure they’re otherwise up to date and they’re healthy and their immune system is functioning is the best thing that you could do.”

If your dog has a cough that does not go away after a week or has other symptoms such as lethargy, not wanting to eat, or a fever, Bittner says a vet visit would be needed.